As western Sudan continues to suffer, much international attention has focused on whether to call what is happening there "genocide." Yet once the term was invoked, it did not trigger outside intervention. Terminology turns out to matter far less than was expected. And once more, the world has dithered while people die.
Dealing with today's threats requires broad, deep, and sustained global cooperation. Thus the states of the world must create a collective security system to prevent terrorism, strengthen nonproliferation, and bring peace to war-torn areas, while also promoting human rights, democracy, and development. And the UN must go through its most radical overhaul yet.
We face many foreign policy decisions--how to respond to the fighting in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Salvador, Angola, Kampuchea, the Philippines and soon, perhaps, South Africa--that involve the legality of intervening in a civil war. The international law journals are full of scholarly discussions on this subject. They are hard for non-scholars to follow. They disagree sharply, as scholars are wont to do, in their argumentation and conclusions. For readers who are not scholars of international law, this article tries to explain how the rules have evolved, where they now stand, and how they might be clarified to relieve the rising tension between the principle of nonintervention and the human rights of self-determination and open democratic elections.